Are you planning a Hawaiian vacation to Oahu and wondering what activities to fill your itinerary with? You’re in the right place.
The third largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is often considered the heart of Hawaii and brings together a mix of cultures from the East and West. Combining timeless nature with bustling city life, Oahu has plenty to offer for every kind of traveler.
Home to some of the world’s best beaches, unique wildlife, and a vibrant culture like no other. Oahu is truly a one-of-a-kind destination. With so much to see and do, planning your trip can be overwhelming. But don’t worry, we’ve narrowed it down to 15 of the best things to do in Oahu to make it a little bit easier for you.
If you’re planning on exploring other islands on your trip, be sure to check out our article on the 20 best things to do in Hawaii by island.
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16 Things to Do in Oahu
Oahu is filled with things to do. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a history buff or a beach bum, there’s something for everyone on this breathtaking island. Here are 15 things to do in Oahu that we think should be on everyone’s Hawaiian bucket list.
Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu is located on Oahu’s south shore and is the state’s hub for business, culture, and entertainment. Highlights include the Honolulu Museum of Art, Bishop Museum, and the Chinatown district. If you want to make the most of your time in the capital, join the Honolulu city tour that’ll take you to some must-see attractions including the Kawaiahaʻo Church, Pearl Harbor, and the USS Arizona.
Be sure to plan some time to explore Waikiki, the city’s most famous neighborhood which is known for its excellent surf and vibrant nightlife. There are plenty of things to do in Waikiki, including taking a surfing lesson on the main beach and visiting Iolani Palace before watching a traditional hula show or taking a sunset cruise.
Go surfing at North Shore
Situated about 30 minutes from Honolulu, the North Shore (yes, it’s located on the north shore of the island) is one of the best spots in Oahu for surfing. Note that the waves can get pretty big, so it’s definitely not ideal for beginners. Once you’ve had a few lessons, head to the North Shore to escape the crowds and cut some waves.
Swim at Hanauma Bay
Pristine sands and crystal-clear waters are what make Hanauma Bay stand out as one of the best spots for swimming and snorkeling on the island. Head there early to snag a parking place and a good spot on the beach.
Snorkeling in Oahu
Oahu is a sublime place to go for a swim and snorkeling. We put together a massive list of 22 of the very best spots to snorkel on the island. Check it out and pick the best spot for yourself!
Hike the Kaena Point trail
Just under 10km, the Kaena Point Trail is a moderate out-and-back trail near Waialua in Oahu. You can complete the walk in just over 2 hours.
Along the way you can enjoy coastal views and – if you’re lucky – you may even spot albatrosses, seals or whales. We recommend taking a few beers or a picnic dinner and heading up to catch the sunset. Just remember to take your trash back with you!
Visit Byodo-In Temple
The Hawaiian version of the original Byodo-In Temple in Uji Japan is located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains. Built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, the temple is a must-see if you’re visiting Oahu. The Buddhist temple welcomes visitors to meditate, worship, or just appreciate its incredible beauty.
Turtle spotting at Laniakea Beach
Oahu isn’t short of beautiful beaches, but Laniakea Beach stands out because it’s a favorite spot for Hawaii’s green sea turtles to hang out. Head there to catch a glimpse of these creatures in their natural habitat, but be sure not to get too close as the turtles are protected under Hawaiian law.
Hike to the volcanic crater at Diamond Head
Hiking to the summit of Diamond Head is a must for anyone looking for things to do in Oahu.
Beginning just a 5-minute walk from the heart of Waikiki, this kid-friendly hike takes just 2 hours to complete and offers panoramic views over the island.
Go it alone or join a group excursion where you’ll learn about the area’s culture and history from an experienced guide.
Visit Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
This botanical park boasts tropical trees and plants from all over the world and is a must-see if you’re seeking things to do in Oahu.
Explore over 400 acres of stunning flora and be sure to look out for the many bird species that call the botanical gardens home, including Hawaii’s native Auku’u (Black-crowned Night Heron) and Kōlea (Pacific Golden Plover).
Polynesian Cultural Center
One of the best things to do in Oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center is a must-see for anyone interested in learning about the history and culture of Polynesia.
Located on the north shore, the center is a living museum where visitors can explore 6 villages representing the unique cultures of Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga. Make sure to catch the traditional song and dance show at the end of the day.
If you love adrenaline-filled activities and are looking for a family-friendly activity in Oahu, be sure to plan a visit to Kualoa Ranch.
Located just under 40km from Honolulu, Kualoa Ranch is a 400-acre private nature reserve that has been a filming location for popular flicks like Jurassic Park and The Karate Kid. Visitors can join a variety of eco-tours and go mountain biking, horseback riding, ziplining and much more.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
One of the most scenic hiking routes in Hawaii, the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail simply can’t be missed. Roughly 4 km long, this trail takes under 2 hours to complete and offers mesmerizing views of the Koko Crater and Koko Ridge. Popular landmarks along the way include giant tide pools, Makapu’u Point and the route’s namesake, the Makapu’u Lighthouse.
Swim at the Ko Olina Lagoons
Ko Olina is one of the top resort areas in Oahu and is home to numerous fancy hotel chains like the Four Seasons and Marriott. Although 3 of the lagoons are restricted to guests only, the fourth is open to the public. These man-made lagoons offer family-friendly swimming spots and snorkeling opportunities. If you want to spend a relaxed day by the water, this is one of the best things to do in Oahu.
Take a helicopter ride over the island
Why not take in all of Oahu’s natural beauty from above on a helicopter ride over the island? Splash out on a 45-minute helicopter adventure with Rainbow Helicopters and see some of Oahu’s most secluded spots. Keep your eyes peeled for iconic landmarks including Moana Falls, Aloha Tower, Diamond Head, and Makapu’u Lighthouse. You’ll want to make sure your camera batteries are fully charged for this one.
Go whale watching
Hawaii is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. If you’re in Oahu at the right time of the year (Dec-May) then head out on a whale-watching cruise to see these majestic creatures frolicking in their natural environment.
Do an island tour
If you’re short on time but want to squeeze in as much sightseeing as possible, consider doing a full-day island tour by bus. These excursions take you all over the island, stopping at key attractions like Nuuanu Pali Lookout, the North Shore, Waimea Valley and the historic Dole Plantation.
Where to stay on Oahu
The island of Oahu is home to an eclectic range of accommodation options to suit every budget.
We know that budgeting for travel can be difficult, so if you’re in need of some tips don’t forget to read our Hawaii price guide. Whether you want to stay in a cheap B&B in the city or splash out on an expensive beachside resort – there’s something for everyone. Here are a few of our top picks.
Best budget city accommodation – The Beach Waikiki Boutique Hostel
Just a short walk from the beach, the Beach Waikiki Boutique Hostel provides stylish, clean, affordable rooms and dorms. The hostel offers self-catering kitchens, a terrace, and a private chat group to help guests connect with other like-minded travelers.
Best mid-range hotel – The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
If you’re looking for a hotel that won’t break the bank but still offers a pleasant experience, you can’t go wrong with the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club. Just 600 meters from the beach, this hotel offers vintage bungalows, poolside entertainment and an on-site restaurant.
Best luxury hotel – Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina
Located on the west coast of the island near the Ko Olina lagoons, the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina is the place to be if you’ve got cash to splash. This luxury beach resort features restaurants, swimming pools, an on-site spa and much more.
Wrapping up your Oahu trip
So, there you have it, folks! 16 of the best things to do in Oahu. With so much natural beauty to discover, we doubt you’ll have a moment’s rest on your trip to this Hawaiian gem.
As always happy travels, and we’ll see you on the road!